Dear ILWU Local 10 members,
I am writing to you from the Gaza Strip to thank you for your union action in refusing to unload an Israeli ship and to tell you a little bit about our life here. Like everyone in Gaza, I have lived through the 3-year siege and decades of Israeli military attacks. That is why your solidarity touches me.
I want to tell you one Palestinian child's story. On 9 June 2006, 12-year-old Huda Ghaliya went for a picnic with her mother, father, brothers and sisters. After arriving on Gaza's beach, Huda repeatedly shouted, heartbreakingly, “Daddy, Daddy, ” while searching for the rest of her family after Israeli forces shelled the beach in northern Gaza. The entire family was wiped out, and dozens more were injured. The casualties of the attack, including Huda, were brought to Al Awda Hospital where I was working. Some of my colleagues, including seasoned emergency healthworkers, could not bear to go to the child’s room. Huda kept insisting that “mum and dad did not pass away, they are in another hospital.” When a TV crew arrived, the cameraman collapsed at the scene. I burst into tears.
What happened to that child will follow her for the rest of her life. She saw her entire family killed on a lovely sunny morning that was meant to be the start of a joyful day. 9 June 2006 was not the first or the last time that Palestinian children, living under Israeli occupation and the siege of Gaza, lost family members.
The latest assault against Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, was a preplanned, systematic, and massively destructive attack on the people of Gaza. Israel should be held responsible for war crimes and the UN report by Judge Goldstone proved that these were crimes against humanity.
The recent events on-board the Freedom Flotilla was another act of terrorism and further proof that Israel does not abide by international law. Even though this act recalled previous war crimes against the Palestinian population in Gaza, people were shocked and in disbelief that Israel could commit this aggression against civilians in international waters. It showed again that Israel is above the law as long as the people of the world stay silent.
This makes the genuine act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to handle the "Zim Shenzhen" ship so important for us in Gaza. We, who live under the siege and continuous hardships, were so impressed by this act of solidarity, as well as the many other brave acts over the years to support our struggle to reach our inalienable rights. While the majority of the world is silent, we appreciate your action which gives us hope because we know that we are not alone and forgotten. One day the people who act against all types of injustice will ring the bell, and injustice will come to an end. Alone we cannot reach our goal, but with your solidarity, we will.
Your act of solidarity gives us tremendous hope. Together we defeated South Africa’s apartheid regime and together we can defeat the Israeli apartheid and occupation.
At the moment, we at Middle East Children's Alliance are running a supportive and educational project for the children of the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City. We named our project LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE because 18 months after Israel's brutal attack against Gaza, they do not allow essential building materials to enter Gaza. Israel allows ketchup and fizzy drinks into Gaza, and then tells the world that there is no siege!!!! Meanwhile they deny us many essential materials, including medications like chemotherapy for cancer patients, and spare parts for medical equipment, as well as a suitable amounts of dairy products. The list is too long to mention. Unemployment has reached 60%, and 80% of the population is living on international aid.
When I visited the site of LEARNING ON THE RUBBLE, I could see the shadow of trauma on the kids’ faces, as well as the physical scars on their bodies, either caused by the Israeli soldiers' aggression or by being trapped under the rubble when Israeli bulldozers demolished their homes. The ones that survived became homeless in a matter of minutes.
Some of these children were trapped next to the dead body of a family member. I met one woman who lost her husband and son. Tearfully, she told me that her son, aged 13, slowly and agonizingly bled to death in her lap over 12 hours. Had ambulances and medical teams been able to reach them, her son would not have died. But the Israeli army did not allow health workers to enter the area to evacuate the injured for days. When teams from the International Red Cross were first allowed into the area, they were shocked and horrified by the sights of children and women trapped under the rubble, injured, hungry, cold, and terrified.
Israel’s violations of health human rights has become routine, it is the norm now instead of a terrible exception. In the last assault against Gaza, more than a dozen health workers were killed while on duty. I have witnessed dozens of incidents similar to the ones I've written about today. Israel has no respect for human rights, including health human rights, even though the Fourth Geneva convention guarantees those of us living in Gaza, or anywhere in the world, these fundamental rights.
Gaza’s population suffers many additional hardships. Electricity is frequently off, making it harder to write to you. Water is not suitable for drinking and is completely unavailable in some areas. This has a great impact on people’s health, as does the inadequate sewage system for such a densely populated area. We have endured decades of occupation and we need our freedom so we can begin the long process of rebuilding our society. Only freedom will repair the physical and psychological damage that has been done.
On this small piece of land where we all feel alone, isolated, and forgotten because of the Israeli siege, we were so impressed and empowered to learn about the courageous act of the Oakland dock workers who refused to load or unload the "Zim Shenzhen". This act is an effective tool against Israel to pressure them to lift the siege and end the occupation.
With this act, your union proclaimed its membership in the international family and refused to accept state aggression and injustice inflicted on other people. Though the distance and the Israeli siege keep us physically apart, we thank you for standing with us on our path to freedom.
Now is the time for all of us to stand together and say “enough!” to Israel’s brutal acts against humanity.
With love and solidarity,
Dr. Mona El-Farra
Dr. Mona El-Farra is a physician by training and a human rights and women's rights activist by practice in the occupied Gaza Strip. She was born in Khan Younis, Gaza and has dedicated herself to developing community based programs that aim to improve health quality and link health services with cultural and recreation services all over the Gaza Strip. Dr. El-Farra is the Director of Gaza Projects for the Middle East Children's Alliance, the Health Chair of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society of the Gaza Strip, and a member of the Union of Health Work Committees. Dr. El-Farra has a son and two daughters.